Often times when we’re shooting during the day in direct sunlight, we need to modify our lighting because the sun is simply too bright and harsh. There are many ways to modify light and create shade, such as using a reflector, scrim or GOBO (GO in Between Object), but sometimes you need to create a lot of shade. In this review we’re going to be looking at the Photek Sunbuster Umbrella. The Photek Sunbuster is an enormous umbrella that diffuses light to help you create shade or soft diffused lighting.
Watch the Photek Sunbuster Umbrella Video Review
Specifications (for $220 kit)
- 42″ Extension Pole
- Tilting Bracket, Frame
- Black/Silver Cover
- Clamp, T-Bar
- Open Diameter: 84″ (2.13m)
When the umbrella arrived, it was much bigger than we anticipated. The Photek Sunbuster Umbrella is a massive 84 inches in diameter. It covers a wide surface area and has a long boom arm to help you shade your subject without having the umbrella in the camera’s frame. The Photek Sunbuster is priced around $150-$220, depending on what kit you choose to purchase.
We tested out this behemoth of an umbrella during our Conceptual Vintage Field Fashion Shoot. The shoot was earlier in the day and the sun was high in the sky, so it was the perfect time to test out the umbrella as a scrim.
Shooting With The Sunbuster
The Sunbuster has an extended boom and an adjustable pivoting head. The length of the boom arm and the pivoting head made it simple for our lighting assistant to adjust the umbrella to scrim the subject while staying out of frame.
When shooting against the sun, the umbrella helped us soften the natural hair and rim lighting. Of course the strong hair light looks great as an aesthetic choice as well, but sometimes we want a softer diffused light on the hair so we’re not blowing out the highlights. In addition, a softer hair light is also helpful when you are shooting subjects with very wispy hair like in the image below. The softer hair light draws less attention to fly-away hair in the image on the left, than when compared to the standard image on the right.
When we shot with the direction of the sun, unfortunately the umbrella blocked too much light. The Sunbuster was cutting out so much light that it almost looked like full shade, particularly when you used the center area of the umbrella to cast direct shade. In these situations, our model became too dark to balance with the background and we were not able to take the photo without blowing out the highlights in the sky or clipping the shadow details on our model.
This made us think that it would be wonderful if Photek offered different covers or umbrellas that featured ratings and different levels of light diffusion. Unfortunately, Photek only offers the standard white diffusion cloth (which is what we were using) and an optional full black cover which gives you 100% shade.
Below Average Build Quality
The main drawback on the Sunbuster Umbrella, was its build quality. The first time we took the umbrella out, the cloth’s stitching slowly became undone in the pockets on the tips of the umbrella. The carrying case itself also tore along the stitching after a bit of light use. These problems can be fixed with tape or stitching (for those that can sew), but it’s quite irritating to find the stitching tearing considering that the umbrella is $150-$220. Luckily there wasn’t any structural failings to the umbrella itself or anything that we couldn’t fix on our own, but still we expected more.
The Photek Sunbuster Umbrella is a useful daylight modifier that we will continue to use frequently, and if it was constructed a bit better it would have gotten a higher rating. This product is fairly inexpensive but it still has its flaws. It’s safe to say as an owner, there will be times that the umbrella will need some maintenance. Perhaps in the future, were Photek would make some improvements to this product we would give it a higher rating.
So we are giving the Sunbuster 3 out of 5 stars. It is quite useful in harsh daylight conditions, so it still does have a place in many photographer’s toolkits. However, because of the below average build quality and the lack of additional cover options we can’t confidently say this product “should be” in everyone’s toolkit.
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